Wow, that was a real shocker of an endorsement in the Trib this week. No, not the editorial board’s choice, but the fact that Phil Vettel gave two stars to the pop-up dinner series Claudia, which Fooditor wrote about last year. Just a few years ago I recall Phillip Foss complaining that he couldn’t get reviewers to EL Ideas because they didn’t regard it as a real restaurant (and it was on the scary south side), and now we’ve got even the Trib covering Trevor Teich, who serves just a couple of times a month, because that’s part of what our food scene is now. Anyway, spake Vettel: “Things get off to a rousing start with the course titled Snacks, a bento box of well-loved Claudia treats. Chief among these is the foie-gras torchon wrapped in sushi-grade tuna, topped with dots of ponzu gel, resembling a rice-free nigiri roll. This is such a pitch-perfect combination of flavors and textures, such a wonderful bite (or two), that I suspect Teich will be serving it until the day he dies.”


Mike Sula seems to think Dixie outsmarts itself by fusing and confusing its Southern origins: “There seems to be a penchant for Asian-southern inbreeding at Dixie. Tender slabs of charred Korean short ribs and sweet johnnycakes sandwich remoulade and a piquant collard kimchi, garnished with sweet pickled onion and benne seeds (what dewy-eyed southerners call sesame). It’s a busy dish that could stand to lose at least one ingredient (the remoulade). Roasted eggplant topped with uni and ‘benne’ crackers in crab-infused cream comes off like a sweet, sesame-spiked stir-fry.” (Reader)


Michael Nagrant is off to the races at GT Prime, though his review is mostly about why steakhouses kinda blow: “Steakhouse service is often like dealing with a bad real estate agent: obeisant and slavish. (“Yes, ma’am, the cocktail made with Malort and unicorn pee is also my favorite. What an excellent choice you’ve made.”)” So he likes the thing about pre-slicing your meat and offering different cuts together: “It’s like a wine flight in meat form. I often get into arguments with friends about whether or not a rib-eye is better than a filet or if wagyu is really worth the price. This platter settles all arguments. Side by side, the melting wagyu makes the tenderloin feel as soft as an old tennis ball. The rib-eye bursts with more minerality and pepperiness than the wagyu. The attention to detail on each piece of protein is staggering.”


Mike Sula says The Loyalist “has that familiar something-for-everyone vibe, with the usual heirloom tomatoes, chicken liver mousse, aged rib eye, and, of course, a cheeseburger. But upon closer inspection, something more unexpected is afoot… There’s a luscious broiled sea trout fillet bathing in a broth boosted with glutamic sake lees (aka sakekasu, the solids left over after sake is separated from fermented rice), enhancing both the fish and the scarfable bits of charred cucumber floating in the brew. There’s a pair of lightly fried boneless chicken thighs flanking a bed of rice grits creamier than any risotto, along with green beans, and bits of toothsome pickled tripe that lend a surprising acidity.”


Peter Frost looks at the McDonald’s of the future, when minimum wage hikes are avoided by automating everything. “There’s no question that in the long term, technology is going to be a driver of productivity in some way,” sounds the death knell of entry-level employment for millions. But I think it fails to really ask the big question, which is, when there’s no work for teenagers and it’s a dystopian Mad Max world outside, how do big trucks covered in spikes and shooting flames go through the drive-through?


The Trib’s report on the Whole Foods in Englewood touts it as a genuine achievement for Rahm in helping eliminate food deserts on the south side, but also notes a little PR legerdemain at work:

“Aides acknowledged they had changed how City Hall measured food deserts: instead of counting everyone, it was now only low-income Chicagoans. Instead of a half-mile, it was now a mile. And instead of a 2,500-square-foot store selling produce, it was now 10,000 square feet. The practical effect? Emanuel made the size of the food desert problem more than four times smaller — his count of 450,000 people had dropped to just 100,159. Suddenly, instead of shrinking the city’s food deserts by only 4 percent, the mayor was able to claim he’d reduced it by more than 20 percent.”


In Crain’s, Graham Meyer says Art Smith’s new, healthier-option-oriented Blue Door Kitchen in the Table 52 space “promises the sparkle of especially fresh food, and both its nouns imply simplicity. At Blue Door, it’s certainly farm-to-table, but somewhere in those hyphens, the food runs through an adept kitchen… The remarkable food comes at a remarkable value. Nothing at lunch tops $20.”


I ate at Venezuelan Bienmesabe earlier this summer and noticed, but didn’t really pay attention to, “A wall of fame bearing the signatures of 18 Venezuelan-born Major League baseball players (and 2013 Miss Venezuela Migbelis Castellanos).” Mike Sula explains that’s thanks to Cubs catcher Wilson Contreras being a fan of the place; he runs through the simple but pleasing enough food, too. (Reader)


I mentioned Anthony Todd’s love for the city to our north last week while pointing to the Journal-Sentinel (that’s Milwaukee’s newspaper, folks) top 30 list, and this week Anthony has his own guide to a few of his favorite cheesehead thing.


Only a man with the nickname “Hat,” like David Hammond, could write a piece on the disappearance of the hat rack and subtitle it “An American Tragedy”: “Hats, like showing young children how to eat at the dinner table, are a civilizing influence that benefits us all. Look at old newsreels of the years before World War II. Everyone wore a hat, from businessmen to bums: a hat was part of one’s essential attire. Hats helped elevate the Good Generation to the status of Greatest Generation. It’s a fact.”


The Washington Post has a brief piece on the food truck crackdown, prompted by the Sun-Times and ABC 7’s investigation a few weeks back.


I have no dog in any fight between Phil Tadros and anybody, but I know what I see as a journalist, and the half a day I spent with Jared Leonard at Rub for this story on The Budlong convinces me that there’s no validity in Tadros’ claims in this DNA Info piece that “Budlong wouldn’t even be open if I didn’t help him.” As the story makes clear, Leonard worked on the concept for months, and was far along in opening the Lincoln Square location (finally due next month) before Tadros approached him about taking his pretty well finalized concept and plugging it into the suddenly empty space of Bunny the Microbakery. That’s when Tadros entered the picture, not during the months and months that Leonard worked on perfecting the concept. Read the piece for more.


I went to Leña Brava, the seafood-focused side of Rick Bayless’ new complex on Randolph. I tried a couple of the more vaunted starter items—a pineapple-fish ceviche and a kind of crudo of hiramasa—and they were likable enough, but they didn’t necessarily sell me on the earthy Mexican flavors being preferable to sharp, acidic Asian or Italian flavors for such things. The grilled whole sea bass in a Oaxacan sauce, however, is just perfection, cooked to a lightly smoky tender texture, and so is the creamy bowl of cauliflower puree. And I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at the modesty, for the quality, of the bill at the end. Make your reservation now.